East Coast Music Week returns to its roots, as Halifax Magazine tracks down the man who started it all
Deep rootsBy Michelle Brunet | Mar 6, 2013
Tags: East Coast Music Week, John Gracie
John Gracie performed at the first East Coast Music Awards and returns 25 years later.
John Gracie won Best Male Vocalist at the very first Maritime Music Awards. “Well, it was at a bar, so I don’t remember very much,” Gracie says. Rob Cohn’s Daily News column (April 13, 1989) helps fill in the gaps: “…When it was announced, he was sitting backstage with Matt Minglewood and Wayne Nicholson, who had to convince him that he was supposed to go out and pick up the award.”
The year before, Gracie had recorded his first album, Thinkin’ ‘Bout Midnight. “When I did my first record, we actually did it on two-inch analog tape and I remember them editing it by cutting it with a razor blade and taping it together,” says Gracie. “I still have the actual reel on my wall.” Gracie went on to win best male vocalist again in 1990 and 2000, not to mention his long list of regional and international achievements and the 10 or so albums he’s recorded throughout his career.
Louis Thomas’ Sonic Entertainment Group has won numerous awards. Many of the artists Thomas personally manages (like Great Big Sea, Matt Mays and Wintersleep) have a roll call of ECMA accolades. But in the early days, Thomas was drummer for the Thomas Trio and the Red Albino band. “We were around in the early ‘90s and we were nominated for and played at the ECMAs way back then,” says Thomas. “It was around the time when Sloan, Ashley, the Rankins, Great Big Sea and others were very visible. There were lots of different labels down here signing deals. It was pretty exciting times.”
Sheri Jones recalls when Ashley MacIsaac performed his very first ECMA showcase in 1994. “We started the show with Ashley sitting at a grand piano in a tuxedo,” says Jones. “He got about a minute into this beautiful piece, and the lights went up and another girl picked it up. It was so seamless, you didn’t even know he had stopped playing. Then suddenly, Ashley just crashed in with his fiddle….” Jones says the response to his performance was so enthusiastic that they had to escape through the hotel’s kitchen.
Last year, Carmen Townsend won Rising Star Recording of the Year for Waitin’ and Seein’, and has been playing the Rock Showcase since 2005. She says her career has taken off because of the ECMAs. “It’s funny because you never know who is going to be at your show,” says Townsend. “In Corner Brook, a bunch of Australian delegates came to the show and seven months later I was on a plane to Australia.”
Ria Mae adores the fact that the ECMAs allow her to connect with artists and to see a variety of music. In fact, Mae almost missed accepting her award for Pop Recording of the Year last year because there was a show on that she wanted to see. “It was a celebration just to be nominated and I didn’t think I was going to win,” says Mae. “My friend dragged me and when I walked in, they were halfway through the nominee list. They announced that I won and I was like, ‘I think I heard that wrong.’”
Twenty-five years later, Gracie will be once again performing at the ECMAs with his latest repertoire of swing-jazz. Townsend and Mae will also be playing showcases; Mae is nominated for Song of the Year. Thomas and Jones will be spending a lot of time at the international delegate sessions and both manage artists who have been nominated. Each of these successful members of the East Coast music scene will undoubtedly collect some new memories this year, and for years to come.
East Coast Music Week’s 25th Anniversary–March 6 to 10
- More than 20 showcase and songwriter stages across HRM will be shared by more than 100 artists and bands during Eastlink East Coast Music Week. Musicians include David Myles, Rose Cousins, Radio Radio, John Gracie, Jenn Grant, Dwayne Côté & Duane Andrews, Gypsophilia, Jimmy Rankin, Lone Cloud, Thom Swift, Ennis, Les Hay Babies, Matthew Hornell and Ben Caplan.
- There are 31 music, 10 industry and five honorary award categories that will be presented during ECMW. Music nominee leaders include Wintersleep with six nominations and Matt Mays with five.
- ECMW’s Industry Conference features a keynote address from the President of Sire Records, Seymour Stein (who is credited for leading Madonna, Depeche Mode, the Ramones and others to the world stage).
- March 7: The Canadian Red Bull Tour Bus presents a free concert in Grand Parade showcasing Ashley MacIsaac, The Stanfields, Jenn Grant, and Heather Green
- March 9: Rita MacNeil, Lennie Gallant, Cindy Cain, Radio Radio and Ennis will be performing with Symphony Nova Scotia at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium.
- March 10: Rose Cousins and David Myles will host this year’s East Coast Music Awards Gala at the Cunard Centre. Performers for the awards show include Natalie McMaster, Ashley MacIsaac, Charlie A’Court, The Barra MacNeils, Mary Jane Lamond, Classified, Jenn Grant, Rich Aucoin, Christina Martin, John Gracie and more.
Visit ecma.com for more details.